If you ever have the privilege of meeting the president of Mozambique it is almost certain that, whoever you are, you and he will be able to talk to each other. If you cannot speak the Mozambican language of Cishangana, you could try Portuguese. Or he could speak to you in English. If they did not work you could try his Russian, or Spanish. Perhaps French would be better. No luck? Then there would also be his Italian or Kiswahili to fall back on.
Joaquim Alberto Chissano was born to a civil servant Alberto and his wife Maria, the member of a peasant co-operative, at Malehice in Southern Mozambique not far from the Limpopo river in the Mozambican district of Gaza on 22 October 1939. Then his country was part of the Portuguese empire and Antonio de Oliveira Salazar was dictator in Lisbon, the young Joaquim started his schooling at the town now known as Gaza at the primary school named after the Portuguese explorer Mousinho de Albuquerque. Later he moved to the capital of Lourenço Marques, now Maputo, from which he graduated in 1960. He had already marked himself out as a outstanding and politically conscious student by joining the Nucleus of African Secondary Students, NESAM, when he was a teenager, later taking part in the Mozambicans' Association where he started his underground political activities for the independence of his native country.
His idea then was to study in Lisbon and he enrolled at the university there, also being a member of the Casa dos Estudantes do Império, the House of Empire Students in the Portuguese capital. His activities in favour of the end of Salazar's colonialism there won him no favours from the dictatorship. Indeed he had to flee the capital secretly for France where he started medical studies at the University of Poitiers.
He joined Frelimo, the party whose efforts were to gain independence from the Portuguese, in 1962, where he rose rapidly, joining its executive committee a year later and acting as secretary to Frelimo's first president Dr Eduardo Mondlane, assassinated in 1969. Chissano was in charge of the party's education and assisting in the fields of information, security and defence.
From 1964, when military action began against the colonial regime, until 1967, Chissano taught physical education at the party's secondary school, crossing the border to Tanzania to teach the history of nationalism in Mozambique and geography at the school for cadres at Bagamoyo. During these years President Julius Nyerere maintained solid support for the anti-colonialist fight. Chissano returned to Tanzania in 1973 to teach students about the party's history and nationalism.
In September 1974 Chissano was appointed prime minister of the transitional government whose task was to guide the country to independence under its first president Samora Machel the following year. Chissano served as his foreign minister. When Machel died tragically in an air crash, Chissano was elected to lead the nation. For long Mozambique was held hostage by the apartheid regime in Pretoria which supported the Renamo group in a terrible war. It fell to Chissano to make peace with Afonso Dhlakama, a move which led to the country's first multi-party elections in November 1994 in which Chissano won over the Renamo leader.
In December of last year Chissano and Frelimo emerged victorious in presidential and parliamentary elections. Chissano won 52 per cent of the vote to Dhlakama's 48 per cent and Frelimo gained 49 per cent to the 39 per cent won by the Renamo-Uniao Eleitoral alliance.
Meanwhile Chissano, married with four children, has become a model for African leaders, maintaining political fairness at home while he talks strongly against the circumstances of poverty in which countries like his are forced to live. It was his fate to appeal for the world's help in the recent floods in his country during which the Limpopo, near which he was born, ravaged the area in which he grew up.
As one of the strongest voices in Africa, Joaquim Chissano is certainly listened to. At the SI Council meeting held in April in Brussels he sent out an appeal particularly directed at the richer countries of Europe. He said, "Empowerment and knowledge will not be enough because we have many people who are educated in Africa but still cannot do anything by themselves because they cannot compete with the big financial power which stands in their way."
appeal particularly directed a the richer countries of Europe. He said, "Empowerment and knowledge will not be enough because we have many people who are educated in Africa but still cannot do anything by themselves because they cannot compete with the big financial power which stands in their way." It was no surprise that he electrified his audience.
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